After I absorb my favorite artists’ records, I check out their influences. Prince led me to Stevie Wonder and James Brown; Jawbreaker turned me towards Psychedelic Furs and Hüsker Dü. The Doors were a seminal influence on the original punk movement (Patti Smith, X), so I figured I would give Legacy: The Absolute Best when it dropped in 2003. The set is frustratingly mixed. Jim Morrison was a twat; I’m not denying that. The worst Doors songs (“When the Music’s Over,” “The End”) indulged his stupid drugged out poetry. I prefer my psychedelia from 13th Floor Elevators, thanks. But some tunes (“Break On Through (To the Other Side),” “The Crystal Ship”) predict punk. Hell, “Hell, I Love You” predicts new wave. Part of me wants to whittle this two-disc set down to the true essentials, but it’s just not worth my time. For me, The Doors’ legacy lies in keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s discovery of X.
Dragging the Lake compilation series
Created by blink-182’s clothing label Atticus, the Dragging the Lake series never took off like Punk-O-Rama, but it still delivered some quality tunes. The edition featured some great exclusive pop-punk tracks (Alkaline Trio’s “Jaked on Green Beers,” New Found Glory’s “Ex-Miss”). But as a whole it’s something relegated to my youth (Simple Plan, The Used, etc.). I was impressed the compilation landed Jets to Brazil for the second installment, but that’s about it. Volume 3 dropped after blink imploded, and it’s weird swan song. On the one hand, it’s actually kind of forward thinking with tracks from Gratitude, Lucero, and Bedouin Soundclash. But again, it’s just a couple of great tracks (Motion City Soundtrack’s “1000 Paper Cranes,” MxPx’s “Grey Skies Turn Blue”) surrounded by crap and obvious tracks. Released in 2004, I don’t understand why Death Cab for Cutie’s “The New Year” needs to be here. It’s a great track, but Transatlanticism had been out for a year at that point. Who hadn’t heard that song?
Listening To Nick Drake’s brief run (three albums) put me in such a good mood that I decided to his biography. Big mistake. But the guy wrote three gorgeous proto-twee records that put me a nice, mellow place. Listening to them is like hearing an artist strip back excess piece by piece. Drake’s debut, Five Leaves Left, is his most lushly arranged, and while the record works well, Drake’s compositions really only needed guitar and vox, with some piano on the side, as Pink Moon displayed. For proof, compare to full band version of “Way to Blue” on Leaves to the piano demo. The demo is far and away better, although I still love Leaves and Bryter Layter. It’s a shame that Drake didn’t find success in life – the ’80s underground embraced him long after his supposed suicide in 1974 – but he left behind a perfect, though brief, discography.
The Dresden Dolls
Like a lot of people, I got into The Dresden Dolls in the summer of 2004, on the strength of their “Girl Anachronism” single. Seven years later, that song remains my favorite Doll composition. It’s a fiery and intense, so much so that the band can barely hang on when they play it live. The Dolls described themselves as “punk cabaret,” and “Girl Anachronism” is their proof of life. The rest of the band’s self-titled record initially disappointed me; nothing tops that tune in terms of speed, but tunes like “Half Jack” and “Good Day” packed just as much fury. Frontwoman Amanda Palmer even delivered some cool New Romantic pop via “Jeep Song.” I’m a little tool on the more maudlin, showtunes-y material like “Coin-Operated Boy” and “Missed Me,” though. Still, Dresden Dolls is one of my favorite records.
It took a while for the Dolls to come together, though, as A is for Accident attests. The band’s songs used to be looser ‘n’ longer. The strongest track of the bunch, the epic, aching “Truce,” a break-up song to end all break-up songs, hits so hard that it closes out Dresden Dolls, but otherwise, Accident is for die-hards only. The only reason I haven’t sold it yet it is because my copy is autographed. Still, it’s time to do away with it. The same goes for Yes, Virginia…, the group’s uneven sophomore effort. Palmer’s lyrics come off as sophomoric whether she’s kidding or being serious. I also recently realized I had even outgrown some of my favorite tracks from the album like “Delilah” and “Dirty Business.”
I am going to hold on the rarities comp No, Virginia…. I wish it included “Night at the Roses,” but it’s still got some quality tunes in “Sorry Bunch,” “Dear Jenny,” and “Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner.” It’s probably the last document I’ll get out of the Dolls; Palmer has gone on to solo success and gothic legend, but I honestly think drummer Brian Viglione reeled in some of her more self-indulgent impulses.
Verdict: Sell half, keep half.
Dum Dum Girls
While I Will Be was pretty thoroughly OK, Dum Dum Girls’ He Get Me High EP really piqued my interest. Dum Dum Girls deal in fuzzy, skuzzy lo-fi girl pop/garage rock, and while they’re not exactly The Raveonettes, I’m on board for now.
As much as I was obsessed with punk rock in high school, I harbored an interested in baby boomers’ most treasured acts. Sometimes it bloomed (The Beatles), sometimes it failed (The Doors), and sometimes it was somewhere in between (Bob Dylan). Dylan, the political singer/songwriter, the rock ‘n’ roll Judas, the guy with the weird voice and bullshit lyrics, was all over the place in songs. Not so much musically, but certainly lyrically. Dylan is collectively known for acoustic folk songs like “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but I find his early albums, outside of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, to be tedious and repetitive. Detractors will find the most nonsensical material to mock in those early records like The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan.
In my opinion, Dylan hit his stride when he “betrayed” the folk community and went electric. Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home are amazing rock records filled with anger, humor, and romance. Fans who want to prove Dylan’s surreal lyricism wasn’t all pot smoke can find plenty of evidence in “She’s an artist / She don’t look back” and pretty much all of “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Blonde on Blonde marks a big finale to a trilogy of rock records along with Home and Highway. The song lengths are pretty epic and could be a turnoff for some, but there’s enough hits (“Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” After that album, Dylan toyed around with different sounds for a while. Sometimes it worked, like on the country record Nashville Skyline; sometimes it floundered, like on the political folk-rocker John Wesley Harding.
It took a few years, but Dylan finally issued a worthy follow-up in 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. A break-up album with women and the ’60s, Blood found Dylan at his most directly confessional, and tunes like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” still haunt/entrance me. I rounded out my collection with Greatest Hits Volume 3, which has some choice tracks from uneven records like “Hurricane” from Desire or the unreleased “Dignity.” Then Dylan dropped Christmas in the Heart in 2009. His voice weathered, a lot of people wondered how much of Heart was sincere and how much was Dylan once again fucking with public perception. Personally, I think it’s hilarious.
The rest of my collection needs a little trimming though. Like I said, those early acoustic albums don’t hold up once you exit your teens. The rock period can stay, but I found John Wesley Harding to be lacking in energy; “All Along the Watchtower” just doesn’t work once you’ve heard Jim Hendrix’s version.
Verdict: Keep most of it.
Up next: E is for... emo, emotional hardcore, and energetic songs about breaking up.